JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — The crowded GOP primary for the U.S. Senate race has largely played out thus far on social media, gatherings at party functions, and on the fundraising circuit.

But on Tuesday, candidates passed through the James C. Kirkpatrick State Information Center in Jefferson City to officially enter the race to succeed Roy Blunt in Washington, D.C.

It didn’t take long for candidates to take aim at Eric Greitens, the former Missouri governor who resigned in 2018 amid a legal and ethical scandal and is attempting a comeback in the Senate.

As one of only two candidates in the race to have run and won statewide, Greitens has name recognition and the support of a wide array of figures connected to former President Donald Trump, if not Trump’s own endorsement.

National Republicans have worried that if Greitens wins the nomination, he’d put the seat at risk in a general election.

When asked how the Greitens of today is different to Missouri voters than he was in 2018, he wasn’t specific Tuesday and instead said he’d seen “the enemy,” pointing to Antifa, Black Lives Matter, the St. Louis Circuit Attorney’s office’s prosecution of his case, liberal philanthropist George Soros, the mainstream media and Republican establishment leaders. Greitens claimed he’d been exonerated from the 2018 investigation.

Greitens also described Tuesday as a “joyous” day, saying “God hands you pain that you don’t want, and there’s wisdom on the other side.”

But his Republican primary competitors are already trading jabs and casting doubt.

“It’s not conservative if you tie a woman up in your basement and assault her and to bring shame and disgrace on our state, and he did,” said U.S. Rep. Vicky Hartzler, now running for the open Senate seat. “Missouri deserves better.”

Hartzler said pointedly said Greitens is the only Republican candidate she would not support in a general election if he wins the party’s nomination.

Missouri Senator Pro Tem Dave Schatz, a relatively late entrant into the primary race, said defeating Greitens is why he’s in the race now.

“Gov. Greitens was unfit. I served in the legislature when he served as governor,” Schatz said. “He was unfit to serve then. He’s unfit to serve now, and that’s why I’m in this race.”

Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt said questions remain from the previous investigation, using the word “quit” several times when referring to Greitens.

“We need reinforcements in Washington D.C. right now that are tough fighters that are never going to quit on the state,” he said.

One candidate in the race who shows no sign of quitting is U.S. Rep. Billy Long, who said he’s sticking to his pledge to only serve six terms in the House, despite attempts by others, including Trump, to persuade him otherwise.

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